Organizational depth became a focal point for Brendan Shanahan took over the Maple Leafs and implemented his Shana-plan. The hiring of Kyle Dubas supported this sentiment as he was then appointed to take charge of the Marlies as GM and stabilize the AHL team’s structure. For both Shanahan and Dubas the stockpiling of top prospects and development of draft picks has seen a rise in high caliber players within the Maple Leafs farm system. The area of goaltending has seemingly fallen to the wayside in previous regimes but it has been restocked with some impressive recruits, all pressing for the eventual starting job with the big league club. Here is a breakdown of the depth of the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltenders.
The notoriously slow starter turned Vezina candidate, Frederik Andersen has been an elite starting goaltender in his tenure with the Maple Leafs. He was acquired before the start of the 2016/17 season in a trade with Anaheim for a late first round pick. The deal was executed by Lou Lamoriello and was met with some skepticism as Andersen had never played a full season as a starter. Two years on the deal looks like a steal for the Maple Leafs as Andersen has put up back to back seasons with .918 save percentages, and a 2.81 goals against average.
Andersen also faced more shots than any other goaltender last season, with 2029 shots against and racked up five shutouts. He was playing lights out for the majority of the season and helped stabilize a young NHL team that continued to grow on the ice. At only 28 years old, and with three years left on his deal Andersen will likely stave off the mounting competition for the starting job for the remainder of his Leaf’s contract. He’s elite, he’s calm in the net, compact in his positioning, and gives the Leafs stability on the back end. A top quality starting goalie for the Leafs in their early years as a contending team.
The veteran back up to Frederik Andersen, Curtis McElhinney has performed admirably in his time with the Maple Leafs. He re-upped on a two year contract for $850,000 per year before the 2017 season, so he will be playing out the last year on the big league team before likely moving on or retiring. At 35 years old McElhinney has been a solid career backup goalie and has cemented that in his time with Toronto.
He has helped in securing back to back playoff seasons, and even has his name in the Maple Leafs record books as the holder of best single season save percentage (minimum 500 shots) at .925%. His most impressive moment as a Maple Leafs came in the second last game of the regular season against Pittsburgh. A win would see the Leafs make the playoffs and with 48 seconds left Sidney Crosby was robbed blind on a cross crease pass that McElhinney tracked and beautifully stopped with his left pad.
He’s a bit unorthodox style-wise, but he has been serviceable as a Maple Leaf and has provided stability in a position that in underrated by many for importance to a team.
One of the Maple Leafs most important prospects is goaltender Garret Sparks. He made a 17 game appearance in the 2015/16 season for the Maple Leafs where he became the first ever Maple Leafs goalie to debut with a shutout. However, his play dipped along with his teams and he was sent back to the minors. Last season with the Marlies was one for the record books. Sparks had a 1.79 GAA and a .936 save% earning him the Baz Bastion award for most outstanding AHL goalie, as well as the Hap Holmes award he shared with goalie battery-mate for lowest goals allowed per game with a 2.26 average on the season. Oh yeah, and he won the Calder Cup.
Sparks currently has one more season at a the league minimum cap hit before he hits RFA status. He is extremely important to the Leafs because goaltending is at a premium in the league and while he could have an effect on the actual roster he could be more important as a trade piece. The Leafs are currently set on their starter while Sparks is pushing for NHL minutes after performing extremely well in the minors. Carolina, or Phili… need a goalie?
Pickard was acquired last season via trade between the Leafs and Vegas that saw prospect Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 sixth-round pick. Pickard has 86 NHL games under his belt, but was sent directly to the minors to support Sparks and the Marlies on their quest for the the Calder Cup. He played in 33 games for the Marlies last season and combined with Sparks for an award winning season. He has the skills and experience to make him a solid NHL backup or AHL starter, and should be looking for that opportunity.
For the Leafs, Pickard is in the same boat as Sparks. Surely after this upcoming season one of the two players should be moved into the backup role behind Andersen. That leaves the other as a likely trade candidate with the younger goalies in the system maturing to ascending to the AHL. Whether it is Sparks or Pickard that makes the leap to the Maple Leafs for the 2019/20 season, another year of dominant AHL play for the two goalies should see their skills develop further and their trade value spike, too.
Kasimir Kaskisuo is the first goalie that should be looked at as a real, true prospect in the Leafs organization. At 24 years old the Finnish born goalie went un-drafted and played out his development in the NCHC with the University of Minnesota-Duluth for two season. Kaskisuo put up great numbers in his two seasons, and was signed by the leafs following his college career. He has struggled in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears, posting a 3.45 GAA in 32 games during the 2016/17 season.
The following season the Leafs loaned out Kaskisuo to the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. With a move more reminiscent of a soccer transaction than a hockey one, the Leafs showed their interest in their prospect, finding game time for their player in an unorthodox way. He’s young, he shows promise, he’s excelled at the college level; all were signs that the Leafs need to fit him into their system and he replayed their investment with Chicago. Kaskisuo played 28 games for the Wolves with a 2.38 GAA and .914 save% last season.
He is a smothering goalie with good size and uses his strong edge work to make him surprisingly mobile in the crease. He can quickly seal off the bottom of the net and glide from post to post with ease. Look for him to transition back to the Marlies should one of Sparks or Pickard move on from the team or graduate to the NHL.
At just 20 years old former Leafs third round pick in the 2016 draft has been having great success at Boston College in the NCAA H-East League. Woll, a product of the US National Team development program, showed that the Leafs were drafting for need rather than taking the best available player. Bibeau a sixth round pick, and Sparks a seventh round pick, were the last two goalies selected by the Leafs, but both were late round picks. Woll’s selection was an investment in a highly touted young player who will hopefully ascend through the Leaf’s system and be a homegrown talent the Leafs can build upon.
According to DobberProspects.com Woll has good size (6’3″, 197lbs) and high potential for reaching the NHL. He is expected to be selected to the USA’s World Junior team and is the probable starter for that tournament. At 20 years old he should continue to play at Boston College for the next 1-2 years with the log jam in the AHL at the goalie position for the Marlies.
His playing style is similar to Andersen; compact, controlled, and down early. He is very quick with his edges allowing him to recover from blocked shots, deflections, or first saves to square up to secondary chances. He looks extremely promising, and even though he is years away from featuring for the Leafs, keep the name Woll in your memory.
Like Woll, Ian Scott was a early/mid draft pick (fourth round in 2017) and is a solid prospect to add to the organizational goalie depth chart. Physically, Scott has a presence it net, registering at 6’3″ but needs to cultivate some mass as he is only 175lbs. He uses his light frame to be an fast, athletic goalie. He has a poor team in front of him in the WHL in the Prince Albert Raiders, which has inflated Scott’s numbers, but the Leaf’s drafted him on his technical skills and will look to implement him into the AHL system in the coming years, according to Darren Pang of the NHL Network.
The future is bring in Leaf land when looking at the goaltenders of the future. The best part? The current team isn’t being forced into playing any of these players too early in their development to help them contend at the time being. The Marlies are stocked with two elite AHL goalies, Kaskisuo is promising and looks ready to replace either Sparks or Pickard when they depart, and the Leaf’s goalie draft picks from 2016 and 2017 are highly touted and developing well.
For what feels like the first time in years the Maple Leafs are filling the cupboards with solid prospects, letting them marinade at the appropriate levels, and not forcing any players into premature situations. We all have heard that goalies take longer to develop than any other position, but when you have players staggered at different ages and levels of play it makes the transition from one player to the next more natural and less stressful for the fan base.
Leaf’s fans can smile and exhale, the future of their crease appears to be in solid hands.